The 400-Word Review: Never Rarely Sometimes Always
By Sean Collier
April 7, 2020
Few films speak to the strengths of their creators as clearly as “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.”
Writer/director Eliza Hittman made several difficult choices in crafting this moving drama, all in the service of verisimilitude. Her protagonist, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), is no charming movie heroine; she’s a bitter, occasionally standoffish teenager. The script contains no grand speeches, explanations or statements of intent; more is conveyed in what is not said than in what is.
Those and a hundred smaller decisions make “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” feel heartrendingly genuine. Most directors, however, couldn’t handle them; giving your film a distant protagonist and a reticent script would leave many filmmakers unable to connect with audiences. Hittman turns those obstacles into strengths. She seems to will the film into landing somewhere close to the core of the viewer’s mind.
Autumn, a 17-year-old living in the drab part of eastern Pennsylvania, is pregnant and short on options. She’s justifiably afraid to talk to her helpless mother (Sharon Van Etten) or unsavory stepfather (Ryan Eggold). State law prevents her from terminating her pregnancy without parental consent; the clinic she goes to for assistance turns out to be more inclined toward proselytizing than medicine.
Fortunately, Autumn’s cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder) turns out to be resourceful. The pair make it to Manhattan for assistance only to face a litany of additional hurdles — bureaucratic, personal and human.
If “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” has commentary to make, it’s not about reproductive rights. The mission, rather, is to illuminate how byzantine and dehumanizing it can be to take any action without the necessary means. It could be called a film about class and access; more accurately, it’s about the small indignities of contemporary American society (and how they tend to accumulate in times of difficulty).
Flanigan, a first-time performer, is a powerhouse. She is permitted, by my count, a scene and a half of demonstrative emotion; otherwise, she is required to act with stillness and quiet, placing restraint where many actors would be boisterous. The pairing of director and star is dynamic; Hittman and Flanigan are equally committed to speaking loudly without saying a word, and both are distinctly skilled at this atypical method.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is simultaneously devastating and empowering. You’ll leave the film weeping for the weight of the world — yet confident that humans are, by and large, sturdy enough to withstand it.
My Rating: 9/10
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is available via digital on-demand services now.